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The Dangers in the Military Takeover in Egypt

The situation in Egypt remains fraught. But there's hope.


The democracy of the street -- which 16 months ago led to the overthrow of the longstanding President Hosni Mubarak -- is claiming the same kind of people's victory in the overthrow of Morsi.


There are similarities. Like in 2011, the military's move against the sitting president was calculated as a response to massive popular protests - the military then and now claim to be operating on behalf of the Egyptian people. In 2011 people in Tahrir Square reached out with flowers to soldiers climbing down from their tanks. Yesterday the throngs crowding Tahrir Square cheered the military helicopters flying over the square.


But there are serious differences, and major dangers. This time, the sitting president was not a U.S.-backed military dictator kept in power by U.S. funding and political support. This time, the deposed president was Egypt's first democratically and popularly elected president in several generations. This time, when the military deployed armored personnel carriers in the streets of certain neighborhoods of Cairo, it was only, apparently, in areas known as strongholds of former President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood-based party he represents.


Whether or not the military's removal of the president constitutes a coup, the removal of a president by force, by the military, doesn't bode well for Egypt's fragile, incomplete and already flawed democracy. Where has that ever succeeded? For people's movements, the take-over by the military of implementation of the street's demand that Morsi must go, doesn't bode well for the future of that movement. Things remain very fraught.


Certainly the military did some things right. The announcement by General al-Sisi, the army commander, of the military's "roadmap" for the post-Morsi period, was quickly followed by statements of agreement and support for the military by a broadly representative group of leaders of key Egyptian constituencies. They included the head of the Coptic (Christian) church in Egypt; the imam of Al-Ahzar, the thousand-year-old institution known as the center of Islamic thought in Egypt; Mohamed el-Baradei, the leader of one of the largest opposition movements and former head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency; and crucially, a spokesperson for the youth-led tamarrud, or Rebel, movement that had initiated the call for these recent days' protests. Even the al-Nour party, rooted in Egypt's most extreme Salafi movements, which had been Morsi's key coalition partner, participated in the parade of voices heralding the new military-led post-Morsi order.


General al-Sisi called for a technocratic cabinet to be formed, to govern the country and to review the constitution, which he suspended. He said there would be a new election law drafted for parliamentary elections, and that an "ethical charter" would be drafted to guarantee freedom of expression and free media. And he said that all measures would be taken "to empower the youth to take part in state institutions and to be key players in the process." The general claimed that the military does not want to play a political role or to rule Egypt - and on some level that's probably true. But of course the military said that last time too, and yet continued to rule (quite brutally, by all accounts) for more than another year until President Morsi managed to send them back to their barracks.


He said that the military was responding to the Egyptian people's "call for help," and that he did not intend to hold on to the reins of power but to "make good the demands of the revolution." The roadmap included anointing the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court as interim president, with the power to rule by decree. But the Constitutional Court is hardly an independent institution, let alone one representing the revolutionary process that began in Tahrir Square in 2011. Every judge in that court was appointed by the Mubarak regime; Adly Mansour, the chief judge and now interim president, has been on the court since 1992, and while he was chosen chief justice only a couple of months ago, he remains a hold-over from the Mubarak dictatorship - hardly a representative of "the revolution."

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